The view from Billinudgel

The non-existent coup
The rumours of Anthony Albanese’s leadership challenge have been greatly exaggerated


It was less than a week after the budget before febrile stories of a leadership coup started to surface.

Not, specifically, about Malcolm Turnbull: the fact that he is on notice from the recalcitrant in the party room goes without saying. This time the excitement is on the other side of the aisle: in spite of the demonstrable fact that Labor holds a comfortable six-point lead on the two-party preferred polling, the pundits of the right are ramping up the idea that Anthony Albanese is preparing to challenge Bill Shorten.

Obviously this is little more than a beat-up. Shorten is safe as long as he looks like a winner, and the mechanism devised by Kevin Rudd to make a mid-term challenge difficult, although not impossible, guarantees that a lot of serious number crunching would be needed even if the attempt was to be made. But beyond that, Albanese says it is nonsense, and this is one of the few times a politician’s assertion can be taken at face value.

Not that Albanese is without ambition; he would dearly love to lead the party to which he has been wedded at the hip since adolescence. In fact he won the popular vote after the 2013 election, only to be denied by the weight of the factions within the caucus. But since then there has been no sniping, no undermining, no wrecking – and thus it has ever been.

It is worth recalling that during the period Julia Gillard was prime minister, Albanese was the stalwart of the once and future leader, Kevin Rudd. Indeed, during Rudd’s brief resurrection, Albanese was named as his deputy. But in the interim, he served Gillard with honesty and loyalty.

Other Rudd supporters were sacked or resigned and a number of them, like Rudd himself, worked tirelessly to bring Gillard down. But Gillard trusted Albanese’s decency and integrity, and he did not let her down. And he is not about to stab Shorten in the back either.

Many Labor supporters might like him to; Shorten’s personal popularity remains stagnant at best, and there is a feeling that he is dragging the party down. Labor may still win, but victory would certainly be enhanced if Shorten, with all his baggage, could be jettisoned and the more popular and personable Albanese installed.

This, of course, was the thinking in 1983 when Bill Hayden was persuaded to step aside for Bob Hawke in the drover’s dog election that followed. But the circumstances – and certainly the personalities – are very different. Shorten is not about to step aside and Albanese is not working tirelessly to replace him.

All Albanese has actually done is to state the obvious: Shorten’s Australia First advertisement was a shocker, and the Libs have adopted much of Labor’s agenda in framing their tax-and-spend budget. As we get closer to the election, and if the opinion polls lurch back towards the government, the situation may change. But if it does, it will not be as a result of the kind of squalid conspiracies that characterised the demises of Rudd, Gillard and Abbott.

Gillard once said that she could not imagine a Labor Party without Anthony Albanese. If there are such things as political values, Albo is the exemplar.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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